NFL Cuts: Final Seahawks' Preseason Position Battles

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 24: Head coach Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks stands with players during the National Anthem prior to the NFL preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on August 24, 2012 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Here we dive into the remaining key battles for roster spots at each position. A few things should be noted. First, I'm not predicting who will or won't make the team. I'd have to live in Pete Carroll or John Schneider's head, or be a fly on the wall in each position group's classroom to have a realistic shot at doing that, particularly with some of the closer battles. I'm simply applying my own grading/scouting criteria in conjunction with what I know about the team's personnel philosophy, to what I've seen in hours of geeky tape breakdown of the first three preseason games, and establishing a final roster that I would compile based on that criteria. We start with the offense...

Offense: Quarterbacks

Number to Keep: 3

Analysis: All three of Russell Wilson, Matt Flynn and Josh Portis make the roster as the 1st, 2nd and 3rd QBs respectively. We've already analyzed the heck out of this spot.

Running Backs

Number to Keep: 5

Analysis: Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin and Michael Robinson are all shoe-ins to make the final 53, with Leon Washington a near lock. Washington has exhibited change of pace explosiveness and pre-injury speed this preseason, and the value he brings to the return game speaks for itself. Kregg Lumpkin has been good, but I have Taua graded higher for versatility and 2-position depth (FB and HB), and I simply don't see the team keeping 6 RBs, at least long-term.

I've received a few questions about the possibility of Washington being cut, but I just don't see it happening. Nobody else has emerged as a legit big-play return threat outside of Golden Tate, and even Tate would probably only be used on punt returns. Coye Francies and Phillip Adams have been the other two return men this preseason, but Francies was cut and Adams has done nothing special as a returner. I know Washington's contract isn't league minimum by any means, but you can't go out and re-set every position and hope to get the same impact out of bargain players that you do out of an elite return man like Washington.

Building a roster isn't all about cutting costs. Not to mention, Washington has done a lot of the little things well this preseason, both as a blocker and a runner and is a respected leader in the locker room. It's not like the guy has become a liability. Vai Taua probably has a better shot at making the roster than Lumpkin, simply because of the versatility to swing between tailback and fullback, and he's a pass-catching threat out of the backfield in short-yardage situations. This staff loves versatility, so if the ‘Hawks did go with 5 ‘backs, I would put Taua on the roster as a backup FB and 4th RB.

Wide Receivers

Number to Keep: 6

Analysis: Beyond Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate and Braylon Edwards, there is at least one remaining receiver spot to be won, but probably two, and maybe three. The front-runners for the 5th and 6th spot would be Deon Butler, Charly Martin or Ben Obomanu, with Kris Durham, Ricardo Lockette and Lavasier Tuinei competing for a back-end spot if one is available.

Keeping either of Butler or Obomanu around as a 6th or 7th receiver wouldn't make much sense, so assuming one of them hangs on as the 5th, the competition for a 6th spot probably falls between Martin, Durham, Lockette and Tuinei. Based on limited targets to the latter three in the preseason so far, I'm evaluating blind somewhat in guessing which of them grades out higher than the others at this point. Only Tuinei has a catch among them, and it was just that - one catch. I have Jermaine Kearse bringing up the rear with no shot of making the final-53.

Tight End

Number to Keep: 4

Analysis: There might be a 4th TE spot available, and if so, it will come down to two UDFA rookies in Sean McGrath and Cooper Helfet. McGrath has been the more well-rounded of the two on tape in terms of both blocking and pass-catching, but Helfet has some quickness and would provide more of a versatile, field-stretching threat than McGrath, as a receiver.

With the current group of locks (Miller, Winslow, McCoy) all having a history of injury, a guy like McGrath would be my pick to stay around considering how much this offense is going to run the ball, and thus will rely on its TEs to block quite a bit. Helfet is an ideal Practice Squad candidate though, who could have a future in the league, with teams going more to the hybrid WR/TE types.

Offensive Line

Number to Keep: 8

Analysis: Assuming the Seahawks keep 8 O-linemen, I have the following group as locks: Russell Okung, Paul McQuistain, Max Unger, John Moffitt, J.R. Sweezy and Breno Giacomini. That's six. Assuming there are two spots remaining and Carpenter goes on the PUP for the first six weeks, I have graded out Lemuel Jeanpierre and Rishaw Johnson as the best of the remaining bunch, with Paul Fanaika and Frank Omiyale rounding out the bottom of the group, and Kris O'Dowd on "warm body" duty.

While Johnson has graded higher than Omiyale, I could envision a scenario whereby Omiyale makes the roster over Johnson, simply because Johnson doesn't give you anything that Jeanpierre doesn't give you in terms of depth, although from a technique and physical standpoint, Johnson does give you more power and a bit more "nasty". Omiyale gives Seattle a rotational tackle as insurance (and not great insurance, by the way) in the case that either of the starters go down to injury.

Thus, I see Johnson probably more in competition with Jeanpierre for the backup guard/center two-position depth spot - and very much a contender in that competition - and Omiyale retaining a decent chance of making the final-53. Tackle depth is the biggest weakness on this side of the football, by far, so another scenario I could envision would be Seattle initially cutting Omiyale, keeping 7, and then subsequently signing a better backup tackle from the proverbial "scrap pile" of other teams' cuts. There's got to be something better out there, and we'll continue to track free agents as they become available. I think Fanaika and O'Dowd miss the cut here on an 8-man keep.

Defense: Defensive Line

Number to Keep: 9

Analysis: The key in staffing the D-line will be versatility and speed. It's no secret that Pete Carroll and Gus Bradley love switching up the groups and "looks" along the front line, and the concerted effort to go out and get more speed has yielded a crop of athletes that definitely give the ‘Hawks some options. Locks to make the roster are Brandon Mebane, Alan Branch, Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Bruce Irvin, Jason Jones, Clinton McDonald and Greg Scruggs. That leaves competition for what will probably be one more spot between Jaye Howard, Cordarro Law and Pierre Allen.

After watching the tape of all three games several times over, it's a no-brainer in my mind, that Jaye Howard is that guy, if there's a single spot left here. He's got more consistent impact potential than the other two, and has played and improved at the level and rate of no less than a 4th-rounder at this stage, and has the natural physical tools to continue to develop. Not ideal for a starting role, but for depth and rotation, perfect. You keep him. Considering Law's speed, length and versatility (he rushed from the interior on passing downs against K.C. and looked pretty good doing it), I think he beats out Allen - a one-dimensional edge-setter type who won't ever be much of a pass-rush threat. Considering our criteria of "versatile", one-dimensional players don't have a home here past Mebane and Branch. Seattle needs to stock D-line depth with speed, plain-and-simple.

This group is pretty set. Some may not have McDonald as a lock, but the guy has been a consistent, solid contributor against the run since he got to Seattle. He goes a bit under the radar simply because there's not a ton of flash to his game. He's physical, tough, nasty and is your only true run-stuffer past Branch and Mebane. Defending the run is key in this defense, so I just don't see getting rid of him as an option.

Linebackers

Number to Keep: 6

Analysis: Locks to make it - Leroy Hill, K.J. Wright, and Bobby Wagner. Outside of these three, the competition is wide open. I could see the ‘Hawks keeping as many as 6 or 7 Linebackers here, when considering the special teams contributions that guys like Mike Morgan, Malcolm Smith, Korey Toomer, Matt McCoy and Heath Farwell have shown us they can make. Kyle Knox and Allen Bradford shouldn't be left out of the discussion either, especially if the ‘Hawks decide to go younger here, in which case I see Toomer, Smith and Morgan as the "keeps".

I think Toomer makes it either way, as he has shown steady technical and instinctive improvement/correction throughout the preseason, and has flashed some impressive ability to disrupt opposing QBs with his speed and length on blitzes. I would be curious to see Toomer with his hand in the ground coming off the edge in nickel situations, and wonder if coaches might try him out there in PS week 4. Smith rivals Morgan as the fastest remaining linebacker in the group, and he made an impact on special teams last year. Smith is also more fluid in space and gives Seattle depth on the weak-side whereas Morgan is strictly a SAM and while he plays the run better than Smith, is limited in coverage.

Problem with Smith is, he's been injured and hasn't spent much time on the field this preseason, and as I mentioned in a previous post, when you have as much talent as Seattle does on the defensive side of the football, health has to be graded long with any other "skill" or fundamental. Missed time, regardless of the cause, is still missed time, and should factor into coaches' decisions on depth positions.

Farwell and McCoy are both major special teams contributors,and when healthy, McCoy also provides insurance at the MLB spot. I'd keep Toomer, Smith and Farwell if it were me, simply because Farwell is healthy, provides a veteran presence and leadership element to the group, and is an outstanding special teams contributor. If Carroll decides to go young and fast here, and it comes down to Knox, Morgan or Bradford over Farwell, I keep Morgan. He's relentless, fast and would boost the special teams unit.

Cornerbacks

Number to Keep: 5

Analysis: Corners who have a spot on the roster locked up, include: Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. This is another position, like linebacker, whereby depth positions are completely up for grabs. You have to have a nickel/slot corner, and considering that Walther Thurmond probably starts the season on the PUP, the key nickel battle comes down to Marcus Trufant, Byron Maxwell and Phillip Adams. Trufant hasn’t been awful, but he’s clearly adjusting to new technique at a new position, and hasn’t blown me away in underneath coverage, often struggling to feel routes and movement behind him – something he rarely had to do on the outside.

Maxwell is a special teams gunner and has looked good at corner, outside of PS week 1 against Tennessee when he surrendered a couple of big plays. Adams looks quicker in diagnosing and reacting to the underneath routes, and also possesses versatility to move outside, although more so in off-man situations than in press. I give the edge to Adams and Maxwell over the former Pro Bowler, but I don’t consider Trufant a sure cut, especially in light of his lowered salary. His veteran savvy and "plus" tackling boost his value beyond his coverage inconsistencies, and his physicality and high-effort approach are still a good scheme fit.

That leaves Jeremy Lane as Trufant’s main competition for the 5th corner spot, and in getting younger and more dynamic at the position, I would have to strongly consider keeping Lane over Trufant. He’s the third best technical press corner on the roster, plays with a high level of intensity, is a strong tackler and can get down the field on special teams. He needs to learn to control his aggression and become craftier about how he uses contact in man-coverage situations, but what’s left to develop is minimal considering where he was drafted. I think you keep 5 corners here, with Thurmond going on PUP or perhaps, waivers. If they decide to keep 6, then I see Trufant as still being able to contribute both in nickel and dime situations, as well as on special teams, where he’s always been effective.

Safeties

Number to Keep: 4

Analysis: Locks at Safety include: Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Jeron Johnson. Considering the variety of multi-safety packages that this defense runs, it wouldn't be inconceivable to think the team could keep 5 here. As a pure safety, taking into account both coverage and run-support, Chris Maragos is further along than Winston Guy. But this is where scheme really comes into play.

Seattle's "Bandit", rush package, among others, often features a safety coming off the edge as a DPR, and Guy is the ideal fit for that role. He played a very similar role at Kentucky, and in review of the first three preseason contests, he clearly has a knack for getting off the ball and into the backfield quickly. His short-area burst is a lot more impressive than his elongated straight-line speed, but considering how Jeron Johnson has really embraced that versatile 3rd safety role, Guy's skill set is the better scheme fit than Maragos's for that 4th spot. Again, the team could decide to keep both, and it wouldn't be a bad decision.

If they do let Maragos go, there will definitely be teams willing to cut existing 3rd and 4th safeties to add him. He has improved drastically in coverage, and he'd upgrade a lot of current special teams units around the league. A few weeks back, I expressed concern about existing safety depth past Thomas and Chancellor, but this group, particularly Johnson and Maragos, have been a pleasant surprise and have really answered the bell this preseason. DeShawn Shead has some intriguing upside but has simply been over-shadowed by a much improved group.

Key spots still up for grabs going into final preseason game:

- 6th Wide Receiver - Contenders: Durham, Obomanu, Lockette, Martin

- 4th Guard/2nd Center - Contenders: Jeanpierre, Johnson

- 4th And 5th Linebackers - Contenders: Smith, Morgan, Toome

- 3rd/Slot Cornerback - Contenders: Trufant, Adams

Players who could push coaches to make an additional spot for them with a strong final preseason performance (means coaches make a place for them by keeping fewer at another position):

- Any WR for a 7th spot - Tuinei included

- Cordarro Law for a 10th DL spot

- Kyle Knox for a 7th LB spot

- Allen Bradford for a 7th LB spot

- Chris Maragos for a 5th Safety spot

In summary, here's a quick breakdown of how I would put the roster together, if cuts had to be made today:

3 QB - Wilson, Flynn, Portis

5 RB - Lynch, Turbin, Robinson, Washington, Taua

4 TE - Miller, Winslow, McCoy, McGrath

6 WR - Rice, Edwards, Tate, Baldwin, Butler, Tuinei

8 OL - Okung, McQuistain, Unger, Moffitt, Giacomini, Sweezy, Jeanpeirre, Johnson

9 DL - Mebane, Branch, Jones, Bryant, Clemons, Irvin, McDonald, Scruggs, Howard

6 LB - Wagner, Hill, Wright, Smith, Toomer, Farwell

5 CB - Sherman, Browner, Adams, Maxwell, Lane

4 S - Thomas, Chancellor, Johnson, Guy

1LS - Gresham

1K - Hauschka

1 P - Ryan

PUP or IR - Carpenter, Thurmond III, M. McCoy
Practice Squad: Helfet, Knox, Kearse, Law, Shead, O'Dowd, 2 others

Derek has transitioned from doing league-wide NFL Draft analysis at his blog to a more focused and specific Seahawks-centric draft - free agency - pro player personnel site called "ScoutTheSeahawks." It's now up - and it's definitely a site you must bookmark. Derek also maintains a really great free agent trackerthat is much more in-depth than most places because of his background doing deep scouting of NFL Draft prospects. It's updated daily.

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